mercredi, novembre 30, 2005

Pimpin' Jesus: Kirk Franklin is Addicted to Porn and the Functionality of Christianity for Profit

Kirk Franklin: I been around all the church people who were super spiritual but you saw them doing dirt. I didn't want to be a hypocrite, a fake church doer. I didn't wanna be a fake church goer.

Oprah: I know exactly what you mean. I call those people pimpin' Jesus.

I had heard Kirk Franklin was addicted to porn before it was revealed that he was going to be Oprah. This, of course, was rumor so I didn't know whether or not to believe it. Little did I know that my suspicions would be confirmed very soon. Today, Oprah talked to Kirk Franklin about his addiction to pornography. I must say that I was surprised and I wasn't surprised. I don't remember where I heard it but I have always known that everyone is actually 3 people in one : the person you are, the person you want to be, and the person you show other people. Kirk Franklin the gospel singer is what he shows other people.

The interview initially started with Kirk's reminiscence on his life, specifically his formative years and how the addiction to porn started. He was abandoned by his mother and never knew his father. At the age of 4 he was adopted by his 64 year old Aunt Gertrude. By the age of 8, he stated, he became addicted to porn. He further discussed a sort of "rite of passage" for boys, stating that 'everyone' has that uncle or older brother who has a stash of porn under the bed or in the closet. Through his first interactions with porn, he became hooked. He further extrapolated, saying that his first sexual experiences began when he was 9 --- the shock waves through the audiences were palpable.

While he recounted these experiences, much of the time he prefaced them with "in the 'hood" or "you see in the 'hood". I find this significant because I have heard through conversations and my own reading and watching of interviews with mostly Black male hip-hop musicians who grew up in the 'hood that early sexual experiences aren't all that uncommon, probably because the adults in the household had to work and the children weren't heavily supervised and especially in big cities like New York, L.A. and D.C. the time a child spends in innocence is relatively short compared to when they reach experience. Big city life makes you grow up faster. In Kirk's case, his aunt was by any definition elderly and set in her strict Baptist ways. So Kirk was really left to his own devices when it came to sex. By 14, Kirk Franklin was a pro. At that time his aunt was 74.

He grew up in a strict Baptist household and this directly antagonized his obsession. He repeatedly talked about not wanting to be a hypocrite but not knowing what to do about his obsession. At 15, he went to his pastor saying that he wanted to be a true Christian and not live this duality. The pastor told him that he would grow out of it; it would go away. Kirk said that this was about the worst thing he could have said because it didn't go away, it got worse. Growing up, he said he had never seen a married man anywhere, including the Church, who was faithful to his wife.

Kirk admittedly said that he was a 'ho. He had mutliple relationships with multiple people. He would have a concert about Jesus and the Lord and then proceed to have sex with the first woman or women he could get his hands on. Then watch porn. There was a time, he said, when he couldn't go to NY or L.A. because porn was too readily available. When he got married, he thought the marriage would cure the addiction but by his own admittance, it made it worse. His wife Tammy is indeed a beautiful woman and this, Kirk said, played a role in his decision to make her his wife. He thought, I have a beautiful wife with a great body --- I don't need porn. But he almost immediately tried to bring porn into the marriage; he wanted to get his wife to watch the videos and look at the magazines; he wanted to turn her into a porn actress who would perform for him. But Tammy wasn't having it.

Kirk said he hit rock bottom when he tried to rid himself of the porn, driving to a dump and throwing it away. He went back home crying and depressed and at 3 in the morning he drove back to that dump site and searched through the rubbage until he found the porn. This is definitely rock bottom. During the interview, I was most interested to hear from Tammy. She said that Kirk told her face to face about his addiction while they were in L.A., away from their 4 children. Tammy said their sex life during their 9 year marriage began to get weird after Kirk started wanting her to do more and more adventurous things sexually or as Kirk terms it "Showtime at the Apollo". Kirk even said that he would bring the images of the porno actresses into the bedroom with his wife; how could he not. Tammy also expressed self-esteem issues when confronted with her husband's unusual sexual requests and addiction to porn.

Now enough of re-cap. Several things stuck out in my mind as a result of the interview.

  1. If Jesus was a rap star , he'd be the Tupac of Christianity -- Jesus was many things --- he was a revolutionary, he was a preacher, he was doctor/healer, he was a man of the people. He dedicated his life to the fulfillment and bequeathal of unconditional love and service to humankind. Now this is in no way an attempt to compare Jesus and Tupac because trust me, Tupac is no Jesus but they are both being pimped in death. Tupac, like B.I.G., is an icon of hip-hop. Upon his murder, his music was used to promote the careers of other artists. Likewise, Jesus is the MAN in Christianity. Upon his death, his image has been pimped for the benefit of hoards of people -- leaders, priests, religious icons, colonizers, etc. In essence, I believe Kirk Franklin's use of gospel and in essence Jesus was pimpin'. Clearly the man was knee deep in demons, pornography literally consuming his life since he was eight. After concerts, he would engage in crazy sex with multiple people and then consume himself in more porn immediately after. Jesus was clearly not on his mind but maintaining his lifestyle was, so he continued to sing in the name of Jesus and do his dirt.
  2. Black Male Heterosexual Politics (Briefly) -- Black men have always been portrayed as extremely sexual people with humongous sexual urgies and instincts and the equipment to back it up. But its my contention that this behavior is many times taught if not encouraged in the Black community. Specifically in the music industry, Black men are expected to be sexual. Music videos ARE porn, especially in hip-hop. Kirk Franklin is pretty much credited with bring gospel to the mainstream, often blending funk and hip-hop beats into his music. He grew up without a real male figure and being introduced to porn and sexuality at such a young age compounded with the horrendous example of overtly promiscuous married men in church, his resulting obsession with porn is not surprising. Men are expected to be sexual, especially Black men.
  3. Performance as Performance, not Performance as Reality -- Kirk Franklin is a performer. Kirk Franklin is a man. These are facts. I think its important that people do not confuse celebrity, image and performance as virtual markers of reality. These are images promoted to sell a product, whether that product is music, fantasy, a movie, etc. Audiences often confuse the performance with the person. This confusion often leads to revelations of hypocrisy and disappointment. Pornography is a type of performance, a fantasy that's purpose is to fill a void or offer temporary fulfillment to certain needs. For Kirk, the hypocrisy is compounded more than let's say a revelation that Lloyd Banks's is addicted to pornography because of his supposed commitment to God and gospel music career. Performance is people just that ---- performance.
  4. The Strong Black Woman Archetype -- I have a problem with this term. I admire and do respect the strength that Black women have timelessly exhibited but I feel this image has become essentialized. Compound this with the sexism too often found in most religions and I believe this causes women to develop silent psychoses. (Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's brilliant The Yellow Wall Paper) Tammy was almost a little too calm and forgiving for my comfort. Even Oprah exclaimed, "Come on Tammy, you're not Jesus"! Kirk frequently repeated that Tammy was a strong woman, strong Black woman and Tammy sat there quietly and smiled, supporting her man. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Kirk shouldn't be supported but damn -- this man was addicted to porn during your entire marriage (before ya'll even met) and brought these women into their bedroom (figuratively of course). What I appreciated so much about Terry McMillian's interview is her unabashed honesty. She got upset! She felt and she let this man know how much he hurt her and how deceitful he was. I think Tammy was held back by her religion and the image of the strong Black woman.

nugatory -- adj: 1. Trifling; insignificant; inconsequential 2. Having no force; inoperative; ineffectual

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures"
--- Oscar Wilde

mardi, novembre 29, 2005

Review: Barbara Walters's 10 Most Fascinating People of 2005

Since 1993, Barbara Walters has been the host of her annual list of the most "fascinating" people of the respective year. This year, she shelled out some expected people and some not so expected ones. Lets go through the list shall we.

1. Dakota Fanning -- Her movies to date have grossed over $700 million dollars, she gets $3 million dollars per pictures and she's only 11 years old. Yes, this is the life of Dakota Fanning. The adult lives of former child stars are infamously tragic. Think Michael Jackson, Danny Bonaduce, Emmanuel Lewis, Macauley Culkin, Jackie Coogan, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, Dana Plato, Adam Rich, etc. Don't get me wrong --- there are plenty of child stars who have gone on to parlay their earlier successes into successful careers and relatively stable livelihoods (think Ron Howard, Jodie Foster, Christian Bale, Kurt Russell, Alyssa Milano, etc.). But the pattern is there. Dakota seems by all accounts to be on the right path. I hope that she doesn't fall into the trap many child actors have --- broke, psycholgically unstable, and prone to drug abuse. I like Dakota. I think she is talented and professional, having worked with a number of Hollywood A Listers like Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, Robert de Niro, Britney Murphy, and Sean Penn. Right now, I'm reading The Secret Life of Bees for my book club meeting this Sunday and I found out that Dakota Fanning is going to be playing the title character, narrator Lily Melissa Owens.

Kanye West -- He won three Grammys this year, produced another critically acclaimed CD and landed the cover of Time. Kanye is at the top of his game, which is why I am not surprised he was named one of the most fascinating people of 2005. A product of a middle class upbringing with college professors as parents, one of which is a Black Panther, one of the reasons that I like Kanye is that he is unabashedly as my friend Jalylah states, a RACE MAN. Towards the end of the interview tonight, Barbara asked Kanye to fill in the follwoing blank : Kanye West is _________. He responded by saying Black. In an era where most rappers refuse to publicly avow their Blackness or make any statements or music that reflect the specific political and race based discrimination that affects Black males in this country, it is refreshing to find one that will. "Sometimes I just say stuff to fuck with people", says Kanye. He is concerned with image but he's also concerned with Blackness. During the interview Kanye asserted that he is more offended whites whites speak in "incorrect English" to him, than when they use the word nigger. This I don't agree with, I don't think whites should use the word nigger but this isn't the time for that conversation. Kanye, in my opinion was a good pick.

Tom Mesereau --- Lawyer most famously to Michael Jackson and also Robert Blake and Mike Tyson, Mesereau surprised me as he made the list at # 3. He termed the Michael Jackson trial a disgrace, stating that he had no doubt that he would win the case. He made the statement that he was personally akin to cases featuring people of color as he feels that they are constantly being devalued in our society. Let the church say Amen! This is definitely the truth but I have always been one to be skeptical of whites who align very strongly with Black causes. I know all to well of the fetish some have with Black talent, tragedy, or a combination of the two and the lucrative business it can be. Still. I appreciated his candor. The segment featured a glimpse of his girlfriend Minnie Foxx and her two children by a previous relationship. To round out Mesereau, the segment stated that Michael Jackson was now living in Bahrain, to get away from the media spotlight that had permeated his life for so long this year. Nuff said.

Lance Armstrong --- Probably the most predictable choice of the night, this "superman" has won seven Tour de France's from 1999-2005, a race that takes 23 days and spans 2200 miles. Announcing his retirment this year, Lance plans on working more with his foundation for cancer research which has raised over 100 million dollars, spending more time with his three children from his previous marriage and planning his marriage to one of my favorite contemporary artists, Sheryl Crow. At only 34, this young man has accomplsihed more than most people twice his age. I think he deservedly made the list.

Jamie Foxx -- This is definitely not a surprise either. Oscar winner, Hollywood A-List, Hip Hop Hook King (Akon being runner up) comedian, and now musician Jamie Foxx is at the top of his game. Today on Oprah he expressed his love for Oprah, his daughter, his commitment to bachelorhood (at least for now) and promoted his upcoming CD. He also presented Oprah with a stunning portrait of herself done by Artist Lane for missing her Legends Ball. It seems like for now, Jamie can do no wrong. Though I do think that Don Cheadle should have won the Oscar (and every other award out there for Best Actor) and I proud of Jamie's success. Though I'm not a fan of his, I respect his his achievements.

Beth Holloway Twitty -- The mother of Natalie Holloway, who disappeared in Aruba earlier this year was listed as the 6th most fascinating person. What a tragedy! To go missing just like that with little to no clues -- it must be a special kind of terror and death for her family. This year also, a number of attention, deservedly so, was given to the fact that race was a prime factor (also gender and class) in the coverage given to missing persons. According the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Information Center (NCIC) there are 47,842 active missing adult cases, with 30,622 missing adults missing one year or more (as of 7/30/04). Given the numbe rof people who go missing every year, what makes Natalie so special? What makes this case publicity fodder and the disappearance of oh lets say a Honduran single mother of two less special?

Teri Hatcher --- She had to be my second to least favorite on the list. Out of all the characters on Desperate Housewives, she is by far my least favorite. I personally find nothing fascinating about Teri Hatcher and her addition to this list is mind blowing. Any of the other housewives should have trumped her Marcia, Eva, Felicity, or even Nicolette.

Condoleeza Rice -- Current Secretary of State, Condi Rice made the list at # 8. Well, at least I can agree that she's fascinating in the sense that a woman who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama (one of the most segregated and racially devisive cities for its time in America) and went to school with the 4 little girls could become one of the most powerful women in a regime based on ignorance, evil, and hate. Born into the oasis of the middle class, her parents seem to have raised her in a very insulated environment, allowing her to grow apart from the racial movements and nuances of Birmingham. A college graduate at 19, Condi Rice has an impressive level of academic success and career attainment but I find her dealing within the Bush regime fascinating along with a number of other words.

Tom Cruise --- Tom Cruise has had an interesting year and his image has paid for it. From his sofa jumping on Oprah to his debacle with Matt Lauer to his quickie engagement to Katie and her even quicker pregnancy to his proselytizing of scientology, Tom has really thrown caution to the wind. He's definitely one of the most fascinating -- if not simply because he seems to have temporarily lost his mind.


Camilla Parker Bowles --- This is perhaps my greatest upset of the night. She just recently married the Prince of Wales, Charles, but their affair lasted 3 decades. They met when she was 23 but a marriage between the two was not encouraged because Camilla was a "commoner" and Prince Charles was flighty, he wouldn't commit. Both started families with other people but they continued their affair together throughout. Charles even asked Camilla's opinion on Diana when he was considering marrying her. She approved her. I simply despise deception and affairs and she is being lauded as the most fascinating person of 2005?! What more can I say.

If I had made the list, these would be my contenders in no particular order:

10. Kanye West
9. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
8. Michelle Wie
7. Zadie Smith
6. Joan Didion
5. Martha Stewart
4. Oprah Winfrey
3. Jeffrey Sachs
2. Kim Jong-Il
1. Anderson Cooper

o·nei·ric -- adj. Of, relating to, or suggestive of dreams

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures"
--- Oscar Wilde

lundi, novembre 28, 2005

Review: Derailed

Today, I went to see Derailed featuring Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. I was very curious seeing that I like to see actors break out of their usual niches and venture into something different. (Think Kate Hudson's The Skeleton Key ) So I was curious to see Jennifer Anniston in a suspense role. Likewise, I thought the best thing about last year's Closer was Clive Owen so I wanted to see him on screen again. In essence, I was curious about a lot of things and while I must say that I didn't hate the film, it left a lot to be desired in many ways.

As soon as I heard of the plot for Derailed , I thought of a 1987 movie entitled Hands of a Stranger starring Armand Assante and Beverly D'Angelo. The movie is essentially about a woman named Mary who is married to a cop (that's Assante's character) who doesn't pay enough attention to her and in many ways takes her for granted. D'Angelo then begins to gravitate to her son's basketball coach and the two decide to have an affair. They visit a cheap, seedy motel and are about to have sex when D'Angelo changes her mind. She feels guilty about cheating on her husband, especially since te man in question is her son's coach. She gets up to leave and as she opens the door, a man with a gun forces his way into the room. He robs them both, ties them both up and rapes Mary. Mary feels so guilty about what she was doing in the room in the first place but knows that she has to say something to her husband, especially since her wedding ring was stolen. So she concocts a story about being abducted on the street. Assante's character Joe doesn't buy the story and begins to tape his wife's conversations and follow her. Soon, the robber/rapist begins to blackmail the coach and Mary and this is when Joe begins to uncover the truth of what really happened. He becomes obsessed with finding his wife's rapist. When Joe finds him and is tormented between killing him or turning him in, the rapist says, "Sir. I mean no offense, but shouldn't it be your wife you shoot instead of me?...I can see, sir, that there is a part of you that is conflicted over killing me. It is that part of your character I would like to address".

Derailed is much like this though not exactly. Clive Owen is Charles Christopher Shyne, a married business executive who leads a pleasant albeit predictable life in the suburbs of Chicago. His wife Deanna (Melissa George) and he have lost the passion in their lives as their daughter Amy (Addison Timlin) remarks that they don't kiss in the mornings anymore. In fact their singular purpose is to qualify for an expensive piece of equipment for their Type 1 diabetic daughter, who seems to teeter on the cusp of death, her skin the color of plaster and her body seeming quite feeble.

Charles takes the train every morning, predictable and soon we see him meet the lovely Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston). She's perky, witty, and is a tad mysterious. She brightens up Charles's day and lightens the anxiety about his daughter's illness that burdens him. Little does he know that its this meeting that will begin his steady descent. Though he knows he shouldn't, he makes a lunch date with Lucinda and the attraction is definite. Charles is succumbed by his anxiety about his daughter and his vapid marriage and Lucinda is consumed by a vapid marriage as well. They decide to have sex and settle on a cheap motel ---$49 dollars for a room. They enter the room and begin to make out when an armed man, Philip LaRoche (played by the wonderful Vincent Cassel) forces his way in. He robs them, beats Charles, and rapes Lucinda.

The problems just keep coming as LaRoche begins to blackmail Charles for more and more money, hence conflict ensues. At the beginning of the film, it seems as if Charles is an intelligent man but clearly through the progression of this film, its not the case. He makes the most ludicrous decisions during the course of the film. RZA and Xzibit make appearances in the film as well. As actors, they were average --- not horrible but surely not a delight. The representation of Blackness was very stereotypical of Hollywood. You have Winston (RZA), the ex-con mailboy at Charles's job, Xzibit, one of LaRoche's cronies, and Giancarlo Esposito, the cop who espouses to find the truth. Its no shock that when Charles needs help with the gangsters, he turns to RZA, asking him about his prison days and seeking an education on brutality, something that Charles up until now has had no prior experience with. Winston asserts, "Prison's like walking a tightrope...When your back's up to the wall, you gotta do what you gotta do.", after admitting to killing a man.

Both RZA and Xzibit's roles in this film are to reinforce the brutality of their white counterparts either directly or indirectly through their own criminality. RZA educates Charles on brutality and even gives him a shank he made while in prison. Xzibit assists LaRoche in his brutal scheme, backing up LaRoche's own sadism. Giancarlo Esposito represents the Black male "goodness giver". A man of law and justice, Esposito is a moral center of the film. Thus, Blackness is categorized into two preidctable platforms that are not nearly nuanced enough: all three characters are violent (even though Espositio is a cop, cops have to get violent sometimes). Esposito is "good violent", RZA is "circumstantially violent" and Xzibit is "wickedly violent".

The film is entertainment. Its not a horrible film by far by its not excellent. The conflict and decisions of the main character, Charles, could have been explored more and Aniston's Lucinda could have been more fleshed out and more of a departure from her cutsy film/TV characters.

edacious -- adj. : Given to eating; voracious; devouring

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures"
--- Oscar Wilde

dimanche, novembre 27, 2005

Have You Noticed...?

Have you noticed that on Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd on MTV, pretty much each time that he has a Black man on the show, the police or some sort of sexual impropriety are are involved in his prank? Mike Jones, Mekhi Pfeiffer, Mario, Terrell Owens, Omarion, D12, Game, Carmelo Anthony, Ying Yang Twins, etc. The sexual and racial politics on that show are astounding! I guess Ashton and his crew figure that the best way to "punk" a Black man is to get the police involved or to make him the bait in some sort of sexual deviancy, i.e. peeping Tom, underage girls, etc. Its really starting to irritate me and it bothers me that there has been (or at least to my knowledge) no real analysis or criticism of it...

bivouac -- noun: An encampment for the night, usually under little or no shelter.
intransitive verb: To encamp for the night, usually under little or no shelter

"Illusion is the first of all pleasures"
--- Oscar Wilde

vendredi, novembre 25, 2005

Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Just wanting to wish my Mom and Grandma (she's 90 today) a happy happy birthday. I love you both!!!

quidnunc -- noun: One who is curious to know everything that passes; one who knows or pretends to know all that is going on; a gossip; a busybody.

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

jeudi, novembre 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

I hope Everybody had a great Turkey Day and ate well. Many thanks to Jalylah who allowed my sister and I to come and celebrate with her family!

bouleversement-- noun: Complete overthrow; a reversal; a turning upside down

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

mercredi, novembre 23, 2005

Ode to Shirley Chisholm: Icon # 3

"The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It's a girl"
Shirley Chisholm

"There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price"
Shirley Chisholm

What a simply phenomenal woman. January 1st of this year, the incredible Shirley Chisholm passed away. Each week, until the end of the year, I have decided to focus one of my blogs on a luminary, an icon wwhose presence has meant so much to America, that has passed. The incredible Shirley Chisholm is my pick for this week.

In 1968, she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress andin 1972 she became the first African-American and the first woman to make a serious bid to be President of the United States. Shiley was a woman who was fearless, shameless, and courageous. She believed in being a champion for those who could not or would not be a champion for themselves. For each "icon blog", I bring up the same theme --- who will be the champion after these luminaries pass --- what will our Black leadership and iconography look like after the passing of these icons.

My mother and paternal grandmother both have birthdays on Friday ---my grandmother will be 90 years old. The generation of the 40s, 50s, & 60s is steadily getting older and my generation (an 80s baby) is steadily becoming more complacent withjout a thought to a past that in reality is not was not too long ago. Again, what will our black iconography look like at the passing of all these greats? Can we afford to count on Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, or Julian Bond?

As a special tribute to Shirley, I have picked a poem entitled " i am not done yet" by Lucille Clifton from her book Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980:

as possible as yeast
as imminent as bread
a collection of safe habits
a collection of cares
less certain than i seem
more certain than i was
a changed changer
i continue to continue
where i have been
most of my lives is
where i'm going

"The liberals in the House strongly resemble liberals I have known through the last two decades in the civil rights conflict. When it comes time to show on which side they will be counted, they excuse themselves"
Shirley Chisholm

matutinal -- adj. :Relating to or occurring in the morning; early

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

mardi, novembre 22, 2005

Flashback to Film Noir and the Original Bad Chick

"The dark lady, the spider woman, the evil seductress who tempts man and brings about his destruction is among the oldest themes of art, literature, mythology, and religion in western culture...Film is a male fantasy as is most of our art...Film noir is hardly 'progressive' in these terms -- it does not present us with role models who defy their fate and triumph over it. But it does give us one of the few periods of film in which women are active, not static symbols, are intellient and powerful, if destructively so, and derive power, not weakness, from their sexuality"
Janey Place, "Women in Film Noir", Women in Film Noir

Cinema is one of my great passions. Ever since I was old enough to contemplate its artistic form and greater meaning, I have been studying them, critiquing them, and enjoying them. One of my favorite film eras happens to be film noir ("black film), a genre that surfaced in the 40s and 50s featuring a grim, urban setting in which the male protagonist dies, meets defeat, or achieves meaningless victory in the end. Low-key lighting and a somber ambience are two essential characteristics of film noir in addition to brooding characters, corruption, detectives, and the seedy side of the big city. (Think of the stylistic mood and feel of this year's Sin City). But the one most fascinating aspect of film noir, in my opinion, is the femme fatale (fatal woman).

The femme fatale is a fascinating figure conjured by the male imagination: a woman that oozes sensuality and sexuality amid devastating physical beauty that in some way or another leads to the downfall of the male protagonist. My first film noir was the 1946 The Killers with Ava Gardner. Gorgeous by any standard Ava Gardner's Kitty Collins added much of the drama to the Swede's already precarious situation. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon and The Lady from Shanghai are some of the most popular film noirs from this period. I was always so fascinated by the femme fatale. Though I knew instinctively that there was underlying sexism and male privilege imbued in her representation, I appreciated the fact that she was independent, beautiful, intelligent, and active. She moves and changes the action in the course of the film --- she was no shrinking violet, she was the film.

Which is why I was always so angry that she was punished for this at the end of the film. She was always killed, imprisoned or severely disciplined in some way, shape or form. Its as if her deadly, original sin was the fact that she chose self-interest and self-expression, sensuality and independence (sexually and publically) over devotion to men and the domestic sphere. Its as if her ambition was out of character for a woman and for this, she needed to be chastized. In essence, the femme fatale was a symbol of the cultural anxities (male in nature) of the times.

As a master's degree candidate at NYU, I propelled my research into the femme fatale full force. My thesis became tracing the Black female femme fatale (or jezebel) through 20th century American film and how these representations impacted Black female sexuality. I looked at women such as Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, Lena Horn in A Cabin in the Sky, Robin Givens in Harlem Nights and Boomerang, and Tracy Camilia Johns in She's Gotta Have It. While femme fatales do have consistent characteristics, I found some differences when it came to Black women, primarily that even in contemporary film, she still has to be caughyt and punished at the end.

The femme fatale has gracefully traveled through American cinema, morphing and adapting to the mores of the time albeit some characteristics remaining consistent. Cinema such as Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, Madonna in Body of Evidence, and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, Liv Tyler in One Night at McCool's, Virginia Madsen inThird Degree Burn, represent neo-femme fatales apropos to the times. So the question becomes: what cultural anxieties are these women representing?

I believe this form of film is so important for a number of reasons:
  1. I find film noir movies to be, stylistically, very impressive with the low lighting, use of shadows to create suspense and mystery, the grit and sheer rawness of it all leaves a palpable, salty quality with the audience
  2. I find film noir to be a direct testment on the mores and changes of society.
  3. The portrayal of women is very interesting and rich for discussion.

Femme fatales in essence are the original bad chicks: unfaltering, gorgeous, beautiful and ambitious, these women knew what they wanted and actively pursued it. Film noir is such an important part of film history and I believe these roots are steadily being forgotten. I just can't wait for the film that accurately portrays film noir at its roots and one where the femme fatale is not a singular representative of male fantasy and desire. Or maybe instead of waiting for the film, I should do it my damn self!

pukka (also pucka) -- adj. :1. Authentic; genuine. 2. Good of its kind; first-class.

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

lundi, novembre 21, 2005

The Prison Children of Bolivia

I absolutely love to watch BBCNews and peruse through the website when I have free time. Today, I was reading the website and came across a report that astounded, perplexed and worried me. Apparently in Bolivia, children can and many times do occupy the same prison cells as their parents, mainly because once the parent is arrested, the child(ren) have no one to take care of them. The prison system of San Pedro, the largest male prison of Bolivia, houses more than 200 children. By many accounts, on the outside looking in, many of these prisons resemble overcrowded towns --- the children are educated, fed, and play on the prison grounds.

But this arrangement seems increasingly problematic to me for a number of reasons:

  • Prisons are becoming increasingly more and more violent --these children must be witnesses to tons of violent behavior. In fact, psychologist Alejandra Canelas, who works at the day care center at San Sebastian, a woman's detention center, says that the youngsters are witnesses to violence and prostitution in prison cells
  • Psychologically, how are these children being socialized? I couldn't imagine what it would be like to grow up in a prison during one's formative years. Though some of the inmates in the prison have not been convicted of any crimes, there are many drug dealers, rapists, murderers, etc. living in close proximity to these children
  • I am also very wary about children, especially little girls, living in male detention centers --that just seems like the perfect opportunity for child abuse

The number of children living in these prisons has increased exponentially since the 1980s, after drug trafficking laws became more severe. Many claim that things would be worse for the children if they weren't living with their parents in jail because they would more than likely be street children. Then, wouldn't that call for measures to be taken by the Bolivian government to ensure that the children were being properly taken care of?

Currently, BBC News is doing a very interesting series on Latin American prisons. The prison children of Bolivia are on segment as well as features on:

  1. Overcrowding and crime behind bars in Mexican jails
  2. Imprisonment without conviction in Argentian jails
  3. Numerous jail riots in various Latin American jails

Its a very interesting series and has prompted me to do more research and fact finding.

But again, I come back to my central question, what must it be like to grow up or at least spend your formative years behind prsion with your mother or father?

circumambient-- adj. Surrounding; being on all sides; encompassing

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets" ---Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

dimanche, novembre 20, 2005

Never too old to stop the hustle...

This would make a great screenplay... My sister Lynn sent me this e-mail link from about a 75 year old woman who was reminiscing about her career as an international jewel thief. Simply amazing...Life is what you make of it. Though I am not condonming her lifestyle choice, I was none the less intrigued by her story. What do you think?

phantasmagorical-- adj : characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions

"I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn around in the streets"
Gaston Leroux, Phantom of the Opera

samedi, novembre 19, 2005

What the F**k?!?!?!: Part of a Weekly Series

The stupifying lunacy of people never ceases to amaze me. Why do people both random and familiar feel the liberty to make comments about your person with an air of nonchalance and egregious entitlement. I am a woman of slim frame (I also prefer svelte) , a black woman of slim to be more specific and this alone presents a host of problems for me. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have had people that I have just recently met or known for a long time who randomly make comments about my weight:

"Are you a vegetarian? Because you're really thin".
"You need to gain weight".
"Oh, I didn't realize how skinny you are".
"Oooohhhh! You're so thin...Is everything ok?"
"I hate skinny women".

And all of these comments are made with a look of utter distaste and indictment, piercing me with their eyes. Many even take the liberty of putting their hands on me, poking at my collar bone, wrapping their fingers around my wrist as if to feel for a pulse... Now don't get me wrong, I'm not anorexic looking. I'm 5"7 138lbs but I have a thin frame. This treatment comes from both men and women.

My anger has runneth over. Who ever has the right to make comments on people's bodies? It would be one thing if it was a one or two time event but my weight always seems to be an issue that comes up. What the F**k?!

a·pha·sia -- n. Partial or total loss of the ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language, resulting from damage to the brain caused by injury or disease

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

vendredi, novembre 18, 2005

Filmmaking 101

Filmmaking is such an intricate process. Tomorrow morning I will begin producing my fourth short film. I was never formally trained in filmmaking --- I'm part of an organization, Chica Luna Productions, that teaches women of color how to make films/media that reflect our communities. There are six of us and we each create a script and film for a short. As our turns roll by the other members rotate various positions on set: DP, AD, Sound, EDitor, etc. Each film, I'm learning a bit more. The second film I did, I was the DP and made a colossal mistake. I was so concentrated on getting the shot that I wasn't looking for the boom and it appeared in most of the shots. I was and still am mortified. I practically wanted to quit! But I realized that this is a learning process and I know that that will NEVER happen again. So tomorrow morning I'm shooting in Harlem. I hope it all goes well. Sometimes I can be so self-conscious that this gets in the way of me doing a good job. Wish me luck!

ko·bold n. --An often mischievous household elf in German folklore; A gnome that haunts underground places in German folklore

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

jeudi, novembre 17, 2005

Ode to Ossie: Icon # 2

"Any form of art is a form of power, it has impact, it can affect change. It cannot only move us, it makes us move".
----Ossie Davis

"I find, in being black, a thing of beauty; a joy, a strength, a secret cup of gladness".
-----Ossie Davis

I remember February 4, 2005 when I heard that our beloved Ossie Davis had passed. I felt a deep wave of sadness, nostalgia, and want -- I wanted more, I felt Ossie had more to give, say, and do. I immediately began to re-educate myself on his accomplishments filmically, personally, professionally, and as an activist. I re-watched Do the Right Thing, Get on the Bus, No Way Out, Grumpy Old Men... I read the eulogy he gave at Malcolm X's funeral... I mulled over the replicas of his life that remained, trying to piece together the august life that Ossie had lived.

The life Ossie crafted for himself was majestic; he lived for the people and believed that art was political. I admire him so profusely because he was one of the few Black actors of his time to purposefully seek out and create spaces for roles that were not buttressed by a stereotype. Though his fame never reached the heights of say a Sidney Poiter, he nonetheless remained a key intellectual and artistic genius within both the Black American and American political and artistic spheres.

In remembrance of Ossie I chose a poem by Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles entitled "Black men":

Black Men
Black Men are


refusing their backs
to those who comewith

They gallop
gallop away
fast fast fast fast
like wild Stallions
making winds of dust
leaving no hoofprints
galloping fast
to open fields of their dreams
where no one can break them in
tame them
train them
name the trails for them.
Black Men
are also
dancing gentle

who cushion their backs
for those
without spurs
who ride light with stroking hands.

kvetch - intransitive verb: To complain habitually.
noun:1. A complaint 2. A habitual complainer.

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

mercredi, novembre 16, 2005

Ode to 80s Nostalgia

This is a little something that I wrote in my Women's Writing Workshop class this evening:

I remember when Michael Jackson was Black or at least looked that way and Thriller was the album to beat

I remember Reaganomics and the beginning of the end

I remember bad yet endearing fashion trends --- what was it called when boys cut their hair and had that long piece of ponytail in the very back of their heads?

I remember Purple Rain, The Color Purple, Flashdance, Do The Right Thing, School Daze

I remember Double Dutch, Red Light/Green Light, Snaps and Breakdancing

I remember "Video Soul" and "Soul Train" back when Don Cornelius was still the host

I remember when MTV wouldn't play Black music or videos

I remember 25 cent stamps and tape decks

I remember he times when you could meet your party at the gate they were boarding out of at the airport

I remember when Black music videos had Black women in them

I remember when Janet was in "Control", Whitney was "So Emotional" and Anita had "Good Love"

I remember the 80s.

Argus-eyed - adj. Extremely observant; vigilant; having very keen vision; "quick-sighted as a cat"

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

mardi, novembre 15, 2005

Unhappy Spinsters: The Face of Contemporary Television

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a television and cinema fanatic. I greatly enjoy watching various forms of cinema and television with a critical eye, dissecting the nuances and plot turns that course through the story. Recently, however, I have been quite disturbed by a phenomenon that I have noticed on primetime television --- what I like to term as the spinster syndrome.

The word spinster is specifically defined as:
A woman who has remained single beyond the conventional age for marrying.
A single woman.
A person whose occupation is spinning.

The word was derived out of the early 19th century practice of donning unmarried women with the undesirable task of spinning cloth in order to earn a living. The word later evolved to describe a woman beyond conventional marrying age who is usually protrayed as bitter, slightly depressed and inspiring discomfort in those around her.

The current television season is full of new and interesting television shows. I was pleased to see Black women in primary or recurring roles on many of the new shows of the season, mainly: The Ghost Whisperer, Night Stalker, Gray's Anatomy, Close to Home, and Everybody Hates Chris. But my joy quickly turned to distaste as I found that all of these women, were to some extent or another, variants of the spinster stereotype. I define the spinster stereotype (which is really just a re-working of the Sapphire) as a woman who has the following characteristics:
  1. Inspires fear and/or discomfort in those around her.
  2. Is a bitch. Always seems angered or annoyed about something
  3. Is either not involved in a relationship or because she is involved in a relationship, inspires sympathy from the audience for her husband/boyfriend/partner because of her treatment of him.
  4. Usually is in a leadership position

As Black women, we have always had to be strong and independent. But as of late, this seems to be working against us in the American mentality. March 3, 2005, Newsweek published a cover article specifically about Black women, written by Ellis Cose.

The first thing that I noticed about the article, was that in virtually every photograph, the Black women appeared to be very sad, as if to say sure we're making strides educationally, professionally, and financially but we can't get a man. More recently, a new phenomenon has sparked my interest as well, the fact that in Hollywood film and TV programs, Black women rarely play the partners of Black men. I think this all partly goes back to the spinster stereotype. Black women are seen as emasculators, too independent, too mean to be suitable partners and it shows on contemporary TV programs.

Let's begin with Chandra Wilson and her role as Dr. Miranda Bailey on the popular show Gray's Anatomy. Dr. Miranda Bailey, as of last week's show, was just offered a prestigious fellowship in surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital, as well as 4 others. She's capable, attractive, highly intelligent, and excellent at what she does. But she's a bitch. She yells, she tells people off left and right and for all intents and purposes was considered single. A couple of episodes ago, we, the audience, find out that she indeed is married. But the way we find out is suspect, very suspect. Dr. Bailey is leaving work one night, all dressed up and Dr. Derek Shephard [Patrick Dempsey], one of the lead characters on the show, sees her and inquires where she is going, asks if she has a date. She says yes, in fact, she's married. Dr. Shepard looks at her with a look of shock and sympathetic happiness, a smile crossing over his face. The frame then becomes a two shot as we see the silhouette of Miranda's husband entering the scene and lovingly hugging his wife, we don't actually see her husband, we only see his frame as he hugs her. The camera fades back to Dr. Shephard looking at them with a combination of awe and sympathetic content. Sunday, we find out that Dr. Bailey is pregnant with a son. As she relays this to her superior with annoyance and piturbance, she screams "From the start, men just suck the life out of ya!".

Kimberly Elise is a woman on the rise. Lauded by two of the most popular Black figures in media, Oprah and Denzel, as the best actress of her generation, she is one of the regulars on the new show Close to Home. Elise plays hard-edged District Attorney Maureen Scofield who has purposefully made the decision to forgo a husband and children for a career. The show's lead character Annabeth Chase [played by Jennifer Finnigan] chose to pursue both career and family, having just returned back to work from maternity leave. The first episode featured a conflict between Scofield and Chase. Elise's character resented the time that Annabeth took off of work for maternity leave. Maureen is Annabeth's foil. She, like Dr. Bailey, is attractive, intelligent, and in a leadership position on the show but she's also very bitter, mean, and judgmental, especially towards Annabeth and her decision to have a family and a career.

I was very excited to see the premiere of Everybody Hates Chris, based on the 1980s adolescence of "the funniest man in America" Chris Rock. Tichina Arnold, best known for her role as Pamela "Pam" James on the 90s sitcom Martin, plays Chris's mother. I was overjoyed to see "Pam" on TV again. I think Tichina is a good actress, often underrated but again she is a spinster. This time, she is married to Julius who plays Chris's father. Julius is a good man, he works several jobs to provide for his family, comes home at night like a good man should and is a wonderful role model to his kids. So why is Tichina's character Rochelle running around like a banshee screaming at this man every other episode??? The two episodes I am thinking of in particular include the one where Julius was laid off of his job because of a strike and took over household duties while Rochelle went to work. She becomes increasingly jealous of Julius when she realizes that he cleans the house better, cooks better and over all runs a better home than she does. She becomes very passive- aggressive and in an attempt to make her feel better, Julius orders the kids to mess up the house and show distaste for his cooking. In last week's episode, Julius and Rochelle go to buy a TV. Now Julius is infamous on the show for being cheap but with good reason; money is tight and he does not want to be bogged down by the trappings of credit. Rochelle, on the other hand, lives on credit and Julius is consistently trying to pay down the credit that she accumulates. The episode shows Rochelle trying to weasel Julius into buying an expensive TV on credit with a very high interest rate. Rochelle 's character is loud and abrasive with a screech in her yell and its obvious that seven year old Tonya is a seven year old spinster in training and the man she abuses is her older brother Chris. Tonya makes Chris's life even harder with her attitude, need to get him in trouble and overall annoyance. She's proabably my least favorite character on the show and one of Chris's most consistent nemeses.

Both Gabrielle Union and Aisha Tyler star in two new shows, Night Stalker and The Ghost Whisperer respectively. Both women are gorgeous, successful and play foils to the title characters. Both women are unattached and either involved in their work (Union) or involved in the life of the title star (Tyler).

This spinster image as it relays to Black women is just an extention of the Sapphire image. These images of Black women further articulate why Black women make undesirable partners: they're mean, bossy, bitter, too indepdendent, and emasculating. In contemporary cinema and TV, Black men are no longer partnering with Black women. The message of black women being single women in perpetuity is virtually articulated through every media venue imaginable: magazines, TV, advertisements, books, cinema, etc. We're single because we're bitter and when we do get men we turn into banshees who berate them, even when they are good to us. This "banshee spinster" is probably the most pervasive image of Black women in contemporary cinema. Its obvious that noticeable strides are being made for Black men in film and TV. Denzel, then Jamie and Morgan winning Oscars, with Don Cheadle having a nomination but these strides do not include Black women. Black women are often locked in roles where we are shown as unsympathetic and one/two dimensional. Strides need to be made where Black women can be portrayed in more three dimensional and all around better roles. Recently, I heard of a feud between Charlize Theron and Halle Berry. Charlize was apprarently quoted as saying "Note to self. Do not become Halle Berry", in reference to the fact that after Halle's Oscar win, she has not done any filmic projects of worth. Charlize could probably not even imagine in her white world that Black women in Hollywood are lucky if they get one good role much less a bevy of them. Who's responsibility is it to challenge the images that are being presented about us to the world? What should/ can we do about it?

Invidious: adj. Tending to rouse ill will, animosity, or resentment: invidious accusations;
Containing or implying a slight; discriminatory: invidious distinctions; Envious.

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

lundi, novembre 14, 2005

Its Official...I Detest the Black Eyed Peas

"What you gon’ do with all that junk?/All that junk inside your trunk?/
I’ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,/Get you love drunk off my hump/ My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump/ My hump, my hump, my hump/ my lovely little lumps"
Black Eyed Peas, "My Humps"

BEP has to be one of if not the most ridiculous contemporary music band out today. From their dance moves to their lyrics to their member composition. I've always disliked them --- their flow, their music, etc. but my dislike finally boiled over into absolute abhorrence when I heard and saw their latest music video "My Humps". The absolute ludicrousness of BEP is so overabundant that I am at a loss for words! End of blog entry.

Word of the Day: gestalt n. A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"---Nicolas Guillen

dimanche, novembre 13, 2005

Writer's Block

So, I'm writing a book --- a collection of short stories. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to have it finished by Dec. 31st or to at least have a rough cut done. How's that going you may ask? Well for the past couple of months, I've been suffering from a semi-severe case of writer's block. Whether my case is based upon some subconscious feeling of dread on my part that everything I write is terrible or I simply have reached a dearth of interesting, vibrant material or I simply fear the possiblility of failure, I simply don't know. Maybe its a combination of all three. Sometimes I feel better creating euphemisms for what's bothering me so instead of saying writer's block, perhaps I'll call it creative inhibition.

So far, I have ten story sketches and I'm working on creating the templates for those sketches now. By the 31st, I hope to have those sketches completed. On a happier note, last week I had a meeting with an independent film director and she wants me to co-write a screenplay for a film she will shoot in June 2006. This offer did boost my confidence somewhat but fear is a powerful emotion, particularly my atychiphobia (also kakorrhaphiophobia).

The writing workshop in Brooklyn that I assist with is helping out my writing a lot but I think if I can get published and get my work out there, if only in a few small venues or publications first, I'd feel much better and confident about my writing. Confidence. I think confidence is the key. I feel that most of the times that I feel that I have failed at a task it wasn't necessarily because I couldn't do it, it was more because I had no confidence when I undertook the task. Belief in one's self and one's abilities is crucial to success. There are plenty of people who aren't good at anything but because they're confident, they go a long way or at least a longer way than people who are talented but aren't confident in their abilities.

Maybe I need a vice... Alcohol. Drugs. The best and the brightest writers were tortured souls...Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Coleridge...But then again, I don't need any undue tragedy in my life.

I found this poem by the superbly talented Sandra Cisneros in her collection of poems called Loose Woman. As I am beginning to forcefully awaken myself from my "creative inhibition", I choose to surround myself with great writing:

"You Bring Out the Mexican In Me"

You bring out the Mexican in me.
The hunkered thick dark spiral.
The core of a heart howl.
The bitter bile.
The tequila lagrimas on Saturday all
through the next weekend Sunday.
You are the one I'd let go for the other loves for,
surrender my one-woman house.
Allow you red wine in bed,
even with my vintage lace linens.
Maybe. Maybe.

For you.

You bring out the Dolores del Rio in me.
The Mexican spitfire in me.
The raw navajas, glint and passion in me.
The raise Cain and dance with the rooster-footed devil in me.
The spangled sequin in me.
The eagle and serpent in me.
The marachi trumpets of the blood in me.
The Aztec love of war in me.
The fierce obsidian of the tongue in me.
The berrinchuda, bien-cabrona in me.
The Pandora's curiosity in me.
The pre-Columbian death and destruction in me.
The rainforest disaster, nuclear threat in me.
The fear of fascists in me.
Yes, you do. Yes, you do.

You bring out the colonizer in me.
The holocause of desire in me.
The Mexico City '85 earthquake in me.
The Popocatepetl/Ixtaccihuatl in me.
The tidal wave of recession in me.
The Agustin Lara hopeless romantic in me.
The barbacoa taquitos on Sunday in me.
The cover the mirrors with cloth in me.

Sweet twin. My wicked other,
I am the memory that circles your bed nights,
that tugs you taut as moon tugs ocean.
I claim you all mine,
arrogant as Manifest Destiny.
I want to rattle and rent you in two.
I want to defile you and raise hell.
I want to pull out the ktichen knives,
dull and sharp, and whisk the air with crosses.
Me sacas lo mexicana en mi,
Like it or not, honey.

You bring out the Uled-Nayl in me.
The stand-back-white-bitch in me.
The switchblade in the boot in me.
The Apapulco cliff driver in me.
The Flecha Roja mountain disaster in me.
The dengue fever in me.
The Alarma! murderess in me.
I could kill in the name of you and think
it worth it. Brandish a fork and terrorize rivals,
female and male, who loiter and look at you,
languid in your light. Oh,

I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazolteotl.
I am the swallower of sins.
The lust goddess without guilt.
The delicious debauchery. You bring out
The primordial exquisiteness in me.
The nasty obsession in me.
The corporate and venial sin in me.
The original transgression in me.

Red ocher. Yellow ocher. Indigo. Cochineal.
Pinon. Copal. Sweetgrass. Myrrh.
All you saints, blessed and terrible,
Virgen de Guadalupe, diosa Coatlicue,
I invoke you.

Quiero ser tuya. Only yours. Only you.
Quiero amarte. Atarte. Amarrarte.
Love the way a Mexican woman loves. Let
me show you. Love the only way I know how.

Word of the day: alexithymia n. - inability to describe emotions in a verbal manner; inability to express one's feelings

"I have come to tell you you are beautiful. I believe you are beautiful, But that it not the issue. The issue is they want you dead"
---Nicolas Guillen

samedi, novembre 12, 2005

Black Is, Black Ain't and Black is Everything In Between

"One of the first 'world' truths revealed to me when I at last became a member of SCHOOL was that, to be socially successful, a little girl must be Bright (of skin). It was better if your hair was curly, too --- or at least Good Grade (Good Grade implied, usually, no involvement with the Hot Comb)---but Bright you marvelously needed to be"
---Gwendolyn Brooks, Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972)

"It is best to be absolutely clear that the ubiquity and prominence currently accorded to exceptionally beautiful and glamorous but nonetheless racialized bodies do nothing to change the everyday forms of racial hierarchy. The historic associations of blackness with infrahumanity, brutality, crime, idleness, excessive threatening fertility, and so on remain undisturbed. But the appearance of a rich visual culture that allows blackness to be beautiful also feeds a fundamental lack of confidence in the power of the body to hold the boundaries of racial difference in place. It creates anxiety about the older racial hierarchies that make the revolutionary ideas of black beauty oxymoronic..."
----Paul Gilroy, Against Race

I like this photo a great deal. I enjoy the beauty of Alek Wek and find her blackness refreshing, though I haven't seen her in any ads or magazines recently.

As a native Louisianaian now living in New York, I've noticed several things about myself. Living here has made me angrier, meaner, gruffer, and more self-conscious? I haven't had the usual issues with skin tone since I was a little girl. Now that I'm in New York, they've ominously come creeping back. I never thought that not only being black, but a black woman of a darker hue would deny me a date with black men in the city!!! It sounds ridiculous but its true. Does my undeniable, unmistakeable blackness have no currency in Manhattan?

My experiences here had led me to interrogate my own blackness and position it within 2005. Back in the day, light brights were the thing. Add in hair texture and facial phenotypes and one could create a social hierarchy for women within blackness. I was always towards the bottom with my dark skin, nappy hair and very African features but I never felt that this would exclude me from the "marriagables", until I moved to the NY. Its made me incredibly self-conscious.

I'm now on my 3rd year here and find myself more conflicted than ever. My blackness is clearly more like Alek Wek than lets say a Vanessa Williams or a LisaRaye, and I have quickly found that this leaves me with no currency in the dating world. And I am so tired of having this conversation with black men!!! I will never have it again. Firstly, because I don't want to play into the stereotype of the angry black woman. Secondly, I'm tired of them acting like I'm crazy and lastly, I don't want to feed their egos any more than they already are.

Manhattan seems to celebrate for lack of a better word "exotics". I despise the word ---I feel that its perjorative when used towards people [Lord knows I've been called that my fair share of times]. Asians, Latinas, White Women. They all have currency. Bi- and multiracialism have special kinds of currency. But what about me. I know that this experience is valid. My experience. Maybe I need to move to....I don't know where, just somewhere where I can be appreciated for my Alek Wek like looks. All I know is, is that Manhattan isn't the place.

"I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me" --- Franz Fanon

vendredi, novembre 11, 2005

Review: Get Rich or Die Tryin'

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed... is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will... save... that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA".

----- Gordon Gekko [Michael Douglas], Wall Street

Today my friend Crystal and I went to see Get Rich or Die Tryin' , 50's quasi-autobiographical film debut, directed by In America's Jim Sheridan and written by The Sopranos own Terence Winter. I wasn't expecting much, I mean the only thing I appreciate about 50 is his chest. And sure enough, I was right. The movie was, at best, with my most generous and forgiving attributes in play, average. The only people I can imagine would enjoy this movie are the very young (teenage set) or 50s fans. Of course, Get Rich or Die Tryin' will draw the inevitable comparisons to Eminem's 8 Mile, Eminem's quasi-autobiographical film debut. And the truth is 8 Mile is a better film.

Eminem had a better film, better song and a better performance. And he will inspire more empathy. Eminem's B-Rabbit was much more human, nuanced and made for a better underdog story. Marcus is an underdog too but in a different way. Rabbit elicited more sympathy and affection from his audience:

  1. He was a white boy living in a predominately black ghetto in Detroit. What horror!!! I'm sure this gave him much sympathy, specifically from his white audience.
  2. He had a "regular job".
  3. He had a clear set of antagonists who rattled him at every corner : his mother, her boyfriend, Papa Doc and his crew, his boss to certain extent, etc.
  4. He took responsibility for his family, particularly his little sister whom he tried to protect amid their dire circumstances. You actually see B-Rabbit telling her stories, protecting her when he's about to get beaten, etc.
  5. He literally rises to the top based on sheer talent; class trumps race in this story.
  6. B-Rabbit's goodness is a clear strand of his character throughout this entire story. He is simply a good guy trying to be rapper. He's also very physically un-imposing.

Marcus/Young Caesar on the other hand:

  1. Marcus lives in poverty, but his poverty is racialized in a way that B-Rabbit's is not and to a certain extent, this works against him because many pathologize black poverty, they are not sympathetic to it.
  2. Marcus is a drug dealer and people simply don't empathize with drug dealers.
  3. Marcus had antagonists as well, particularly Majestic, but his antagonists were a part of his drug crew, people he associated with.
  4. Marcus/Young Caesar rises to the top based on talent and violence.
  5. Marcus's moral fiber is much more ambiguous; the story doesn't craft him as a traditional underdog. He's a drug dealer, he's shot people, he's robbed people...
  6. Black men in general, but black men who have a criminal record and are built like Marcus, with those hard jail bodies covered in tattoes are generally feared instead of empathized with; Marcus's physical stature worked against him.

Its important to emphasize that 50 and Eminem grew up much differently in that 50s life was riddled with violence in a way that Eminem's was not (think specifically of the mythology that surrounds 50 --- shot nine times, mother murdered when he was 8, raised by drug dealers) but for an audience this would not necessarily resonate. Marcus is surrounded by violence from the beginning to the end of the film. He really does not change or grow, he just adjusts to his circumstances. 50's character is not one with which people would generally identify with, espcially as an underdog and Eminem's is.

Get Rich or Die Tryin' was also a film, much like 8 Mile and many other hip-hop films, where women are either caretakers or sexual villians. Marcus's mother Katrina was very sexualized (Marcus never know his father and it was intonated that his mother may not have known) and a drug dealer. His grandmother was the consummate tired black woman who took care of children that others couldn't or wouldn't. And Charlene, Joy Bryant's character was the most infuriating of all. She was supposedly a dancer/dance teacher in the film but we never see her dancing or teaching or anything. Literally, her presence is only there in the movie to assure Marcus's heterosexuality. In one of the more infuriating scenes, Charlene is visiting Marcus in jail and its here that she tells him that she's pregnant with their child. Marcus asks her if she's going to keep the child and she states that she is. He then asks her what will happen to her dance career and she says that she can always dance for him. She is neither nuanced or multi-dimensional, she is just there.

This may be a stretch for some but I also felt a tinge of homoerotica in the film, specifically between Marcus and his manager Bama played by Terrence Howard. In the film, there is a scene in which Marcus is attacked by a group of inmates in jail while taking a shower. Bama jumps to his rescue and for several minutes the audience sees a group of naked men slipping and sliding amidst soap, water and blood. At the end of this scene, the men involved are all lying on the ground handcuffed, bloody. Its here that Bama and Marcus make a connection that will last them through to the end of the film, love at first sight.

In essence Get Rich or Die Tryin' seems to be another slate on 50s get rich or die tryin' mantra. He's literally a man who measures his worth in albums and tickets sold rather than quality of material or depth of character. As my friend Jalylah so eloquently stated, 50 would probably consider himself a better rapper than Nas simply because he's sold more albums and has made more money. 50 measures himself on wealth and material instead of substance; he's the ghetto Gordon Gekko.

Combine his focus on materialism with his slam on Kanye West about his Bush comments: "The New Orleans disaster was meant to happen. It was an act of God. I think people responded to it the best way they can...What Kanye West was saying, I don't know where that came from". Clearly 50 didn't see or care about the same footage that I saw on CNN and every other channel on TV. In fact, he would make the perfect conservative, a pull yourself up by the bootstraps thinking kind of guy who would use any method to do so to make it to the top. No excuses. Get Rich or Die Tryin'. You're what? You're an what? You're what?
In essence, 50 is man ruled by possessions. This is a film that adds to his resume and more importantly makes him more wealthy. The March 2005 issue of VIBE portrays 50 as a gangsta most notably reminiscent of Al Pacino's Tony Montana. Its this image 50 wants to maintain. He cares about status, money, and power (not necessarily in that order) and women, guns, enemies are just means, amenities, and occupational hazards that are a part of the life. But, may I ask, would a real gangster have never found out who shot him 9 times? Would a real gangster still have that man walking around? Would Gotti have let that slide? Who am I to judge but I will say that 50 will probably get richer and richer still but at what cost?

"I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me" --- Franz Fanon

jeudi, novembre 10, 2005

Ode to Rosa: Icon # 1

An incredible medley of melancholy, rumination and peace swept over me on October 25th when I read on cnn that our beloved Rosa Parks had passed. Her death coincided with the death of my own great Aunt Roc (they died only days apart). And I began to think of the death of the great ones this year. Ossie Davis. Johnnie Cochran. August Wilson. Shirley Chisolm. Luther Vandross. These are black men and women who have set the bar for those who will come after. My Great Aunt Roc was the last surviving relative of my maternal grandfather's family. And I thought about the death of those who remember what life was like for Blacks in America in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. As these people pass over into the next life, who will continue their work. Rosa risked her life to be afforded the dignity and respect she so deserved.

Could I even possibly know what that's like now? I'm worried that as these luminaries pass --- Blacks will become more and more complacent, letting the vitrolic racism that most certainly pervades our country continue. My Great Aunt Roc is dead and I have so many unasked and unanswered questions that will remain so. My maternal grandmother is 92 and my paternal grandmother will be 90 on the 25th. My maternal grandmother is a marvelous quilter who embroiders history in about a week's time. My paternal grandmother raised 9 kids in the 30s and 40s. They are living legends, griots whose historical knowledge and reminisces are invaluable.

I mourn not only for the death of Rosa and her American legacy.
I mourn not only for the death of my Aunt Roc and her being the last living legacy of my grandfather's family.
But I also mourn for how easily black people have and will forget.

I wanted to honor the passings with a special eloquence, thus chosing the ever magnificent Gwendolyn Brooks and her poem "To Black Women"

where there is cold silence ---
no hallelujahs, no hurrahs at all, no handshakes,
no neon red or blue, no smiling faces ---
Prevail across the editors of the world
who are obsessed, self-honeying and self-crowned
in the seduced arena.

It has been a
hard trudge with fainting, bandaging and death.
There have been startling confrontations.
There have been tramplings. Tramplings
of monarchs and other men.

But there remain large countries in your eyes.
Shrewd sun.
The civil balance.
The listening secrets.

And you create and train your flowers still.

"I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me"
---- Franz Fanon

mercredi, novembre 09, 2005

Terry McMillian's Groove Was Gay and Its Gonna Take Her a Long Time to Exhale

"But it had been from the first her great mistake -- to meet him, to marry him, to love him as she so bitterly had. Looking at his face, it sometimes came to her that all women had been cursed from the cradle; all in one fashion or another, being given the same cruel destiny, born to suffer the weight of men. Frank claimed that she got it all wrong side up; it was men who suffered because they had to put up with the ways of women --- and this from the time they were born until the day they died. But it was she who was right, she knew; with Frank she had always been right; and it had not been her fault that Frank was the way he was determined to live and die a common nigger"
-----James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain

When I saw that Terry McMillian and her ex-husband Jonathan Plummer were going to be on Oprah today, I made sure to TIVO my television. I couldn't help but be saddened by the events that I saw. Can black women get a break??? The betrayal and the deception that she must have felt. For all who do not know the story, Terry McMillian, the best selling author of books such as Waiting to Exhale, Mama, Disappearing Acts and How Stella Got Her Groove back, recently announced that her 6 1/2 year marriage to Jamacian born Jonathan Plummer was ending, following his revelation to her that he was gay. Since then, the two of them have appeared publicly albeit separately on several nationally syndicated programs such as the Tavis Smiley Show, Good Morning America, etc. but never together, until now.

As I expected, Jonathan made several absurd statements such as he didn't know he was gay until two years ago, he didn't use Terry, he didn't cheat on her and blah, blah, blah. Men and their lies.... The things that women put up with. The episode of course dealt with issues such as the Down Low, cheating, etc. Though I'm not currently in a relationship, this episode made me grateful. Trust and honesty are intregal to a relationship and it seems like lately, in our society, this has been taken for granted.

"I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged around me"
----- Franz Fanon